Thursday, 31 October 2013

Pumpkins & Seeds

The thing about pumpkins is that they are really, really tricky to carve. They look like they should be so easy. I mean, it's just a big round vegetable. But they're not - unless you have a set of tools or something and a template - but when you're armed with blunt kitchen knives, a biro and a not-so-steady hand, it's not much fun. I wanted to go with something like this, all beautiful patterns and pretty styling, but the kids insisted on a face. And that's the other thing about carving pumpkins - it's hard to do with little ones, since the very nature of carving involves sharp knives. It's not ideal, really, when you think about it. But we persevered and the kids are very happy with the "punkin", as Angus calls is. To make my self feel better about my failure to produce a pinterest worthy pumpkin, I decided to roast the seeds.

I looked at a few different recipes online and mixed them all together, as is my usual habit. A bit of this one, a bit of that one. After cleaning the seeds as best I could, I boiled them for about ten minutes in salted water. I think this stops the inside part of the seed burning when you roast them. I laid them out overnight on kitchen towels to dry. Then I coated them all with a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper, and roasted them for about fifteen minutes at around 200°C.

A moment longer, and they would have burned, I think. Next time I'll try ten minutes or a cooler oven.

When they'd cooled a little I tipped them onto more kitchen towels to drain off some of the excess oil, then poured them into a waiting jam jar.

They are deliciously moreish. They taste like a cross between salted popcorn and peanuts. They are crunchy but have just a little give in the centre so they're not totally brittle. I didn't think salt and pepper would be enough seasoning - I was thinking garlic salt, celery salt or paprika - but it's just perfect. I kept dipping in and out of the jar all through the day.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


The weather has certainly changed here over the last few days. For us, October has been wet and mild. Lots of damp, showery days with real warmth in the sun and air. I would often be shedding layers on my way back from picking up the kids from school, wishing it would become a little cooler so I could get out my knitwear. 

On Sunday night there was a huge storm here in the UK. Thankfully it didn't really reach us here in the North - the weather was just a little wetter and windier than it had been before - but I do hope any of you further south in the UK were not too badly affected. That storm blew away the last of the mild weather, along with most of the leaves on the trees, which are starting to look bare and skeletal. The clocks went back on Saturday night too so now we have lighter mornings and darker evenings. I haven't really noticed the light difference in the morning yet, but it's palpable in the afternoons. By 5 pm the lights are on and we're drawing the curtains. The sun is low and bright, the shadows are long and the wind is distinctly chilly. Suddenly, almost overnight, it feels a little wintry.

We are staying with my in-laws in Durham at the moment and I am taking advantage of this change in routine. This was a welcome and necessary break for all of us, I can tell you, and we are all recharging in all sorts of ways. Knitting, eating cake, drinking tea and sitting in front of the wood burning stove are all punctuated by trips to the park, the shops, the cafe and the beautiful Northumberland coast. I feel like we mainly go out just so we can enjoy returning home again. I've cast on a cowl from a pattern and yarn I bought at Yarndale. Both knitting and cake eating are essential ways to prepare for the colder months, I'm sure you'll agree.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Nature Table

I was delighted to notice recently that Angus's classroom has a nature table. This is something I remember fondly from my own primary school days, that ramshackle display in a corner of the room filled mainly with conkers, I seem to remember. Always conkers. I don't remember those nature displays appearing in winter, spring or summer, for some reason. But then there is so much of interest to find in the woods and bring inside in the autumn, I suppose, and it doesn't droop or wilt.

Last Sunday afternoon, in a brief moment of sunshine in between rain showers, Christmas cake baking and oven timers beeping, we went down to the woods. We weren't out for long, just time enough for us to all stretch our legs and collect some some "autumn treasures". "I've found some Nature, mummy." said Bella. "I've a found a bit more Nature, mummy." And so it went, as our wellies got muddier and our bag filled up with leaves, acorns, berries, seed heads and feathers. We brought them home and laid them out on a tray covered with a plain white tea towel. I was quite surprised at just how much colour there was to be found in there - pink, red, yellow, green and grey -  among the many shades of brown. A week later it's looking a bit dried up and crispy - it'll end up in the bin soon I think, but it was fun while it lasted.

We didn't find any conkers though.


I so enjoyed reading your comments on my blanket post. What a response! Thank you. It was fascinating reading each of them and made me realise I am most definitely not alone in my need for organised randomness. Tick lists, spreadsheets, graphs, patterns, random stripe generators(!) and lots of piles of squares all featured heavily. It's interesting to see that creative does not always mean carefree and spontaneous - you can be an ever so slightly uptight, careful sort of creative, too. Yay! 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Colour Collaborative: October - Memories

I saw this piece of fabric at a car boot sale back in September - a single duvet cover and two pillow cases, just tossed on a table, looking unloved and abandoned. I had the strongest feeling that I must buy it because there was something so familiar and comforting about both the colour and the pattern. Plus it cost one pound. That helped, if I'm honest. (Me: "How much do you want for this duvet set?" Woman, shrugging: "A pound?" Me, trying to play it cool: "Err....OK THEN!") I can't actually remember this fabric from any one particular place in my childhood but I felt that I'd definitely seen it somewhere before, and I wanted it very badly. It took two hot washes to get rid of the vintage "scent" (hello mothballs!) and I sprayed it today with Febreeze, just for good measure.

I know fabric like this is not to everyones' taste but I think the muted colours work with, not against, the busy floral pattern. There is something about the palate of pinks that reminds me of calamine lotion and Germolene, that pink antiseptic cream that was applied to all cuts and scrapes when I was little. It's not a sickly, sugary pink or a tropical hot pink. Instead I find it full of shades of beige and stone that give it a dusky, washed out look. I'd planned to use it as a duvet cover on Bella's bed, but she has three bedding sets already so I took my scissors to it. The pillow cases are quite badly faded but the duvet cover is in very good condition. I bought some wool felt in a pale creamy grey colour and decided to use this with the fabric to make a cushion. Because as anyone who knows me will say, we don't have nearly enough cushions in our house. There's always room for one more.

I used applique with straight stitch around the edge - I find this kind of sewing so enjoyable and relaxing. Needle in, needle out, up and down - it's like my fingers know where the needle should go next.

I chose an apple motif. That, along with the pure wool felt said "autumn" to me, but not in a fallen leaves, orange, Halloween and pumpkin sort of way, but more in the way this season gives us the softly fading colours of of a almost-disappeared summer. It's cosy. For the back of the cushion, I used the same fabric in a pillow-style opening because - I'll be honest - I can't do zips yet.

I love how it turned out. The cushion pad is feathered and squashy and very comfortable. I like feather cushion pads and will choose them over foam every time. I like the way you can shake them out and plump them up with your fists.

And, do you know, my mum tells me that we had that exact bedding set - in pink - when I was a child. I am one of three girls and it makes sense that we had a lot of pink bedding in the house. So I did recognise it from somewhere, I didn't imagine it! And she also tells me that we still have a pillow the garage. My dad has been using it as a decorating rag for the last ten years.

Do you have anything that you absolutely had to have just because of the memories that were attached to it? A book or a piece of fabric maybe, or a certain type of bowl or dish, or a picture? It's so often those things that were used with such frequency that they were almost overlooked - those everyday items that weave themselves into the fabric of life - that hold the strongest pull and can take you back to a certain place in moments.

What is The Colour Collaborative? All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Blanket in Progress

While it was fun to look back over all that Mollie Makes creativity (and thank you for all your kind comments) I am really enjoying a more long and leisurely sort of project at the moment. I feel like I've got that challenge out of my system now and this blanket is a no pressure, no deadline sort of project. It's a slow burner, where the act of making is as important as the finished item.

It is in my nature to be productive; I am busy and organised(ish), a starter and a finisher. I'm task focused, a list writer, and like to feel a sense of achievement at the end of my day. I'm also a "joiner", one of those trying-to-be-helpful people who volunteer for everything then regret it afterwards, but that's another story.

So I thought I would share my progress so far with you. The pattern is from here and calls for 196 granny squares in total. I have to say that I am loving everything about this blanket so far; the colours are rich, the yarn (Rowan Pure Wool DK) is smooth, and the pattern offers enough variety to stop it being dull but is easy to memorise. So far I've made 39 squares and this is what 35 of them look like laid out, to give you an idea of the pattern.

But the thing is, I'm not very good at being random. Getting the balance of colour right for these squares was bothering me so I attacked it from a very logical and boring perspective. I am working with 16 colours and so I made ten first rounds in each colour, giving me 160 tiny circles. I know it's not enough for the whole blanket but it seemed more manageable to do it that way. And you see, crocheting all those little first rounds at once stops me backing out of the project and saying, oh, you know what, I've made 39...I'll just make...a cushion! It means I've invested my time in it, and done the fiddly bit, and I'm committed now. The blanket will be a blanket, not a cushion or scarf or small throw.

Then I took each of those little circles and matched them with a different colour for their second round, so that no two were the same and the colours were contrasting and varied. So that's 160 slightly bigger circles I've made so far - 39 of them have had their third and fourth round added. The remaining 121 look like this:

But I can't just have this crazy mess of circles in a bag, ready to dip my hand in and randomly grab one ready to crochet the third round. No! The lack of control there would probably kill me! Which colour would I use? What if I used one colour too much? What if I ran out of a favourite colour? How would I carry it all around with me? These things bother me. 

So, what I did was sort these circles into piles based on the colour of the second round  - surely programmes like Downton Abbey are made for times like these? Then I chose the colour for my third round (purple in this case) and took one circle from each pile, like this, so I had my colours chosen and ready to go.

Then I threaded the ball of yarn with a needle...

...and threaded each little circle directly onto the yarn. 

I pushed them all far down the thread, so that they wouldn't fall off if the yarn unraveled, and I wound the yarn tightly round all those little circles. I know this seems like madness but what I have now is a portable project, and my sanity. I have 16 little bundles of yarn in 16 different colours that look just like this one, and when I have a moment to do a bit of mindlessly enjoyable hooking in front of the television, or in the car, or at the school disco, or in the A&E waiting room where I was with Angus last night because he stuck a tiny plastic bead right up his nose...well, I just grab one of those balls and my 4 mm hook and I'm ready to go. 

Then I'll add the fourth and final round (in white yarn) and darn in the ends as I go. If this all goes to plan I'll eventually have 160 finished squares. I know this isn't enough, so for the remaining ones, I might be really naughty and choose the colours I like best and just work with those. I'll ignore the forest green, tan, rust and pillar box red - the colours I don't particularly like but included because they balance out the others and add depth and variety - and play favourites with the heather-purple, olive green and dusky pink. And hopefully, I'll have a nice blanket at the end of it, too, in about four years from now.

And the other thing I'll have is a lot of these - yarn ends. My friend Rachel told me that you can turn wool yarn ends into felt balls. I've never done this before but I'm dying to find out if it's true, once I've sorted the millions of threads into separate colours...

So, am I alone in my controlling ways? How do you approach larger projects like this one? Do you like to impose order over those unruly colours or embrace a more spontaneous, carefree approach? And what do you think it says about us? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Twelve Hours

8.00 am: A cup of tea while I survey the garden in the morning gloom. Leaves everywhere - I need to rake the grass.

9.00 am: Try to persuade Angus to get dressed. This is unsuccessful and doesn't actually happen until about 10.30, and only after we've had a twenty minute battle.

10.00 am: I put some washing on and make the beds, taking extra care with mine, plumping the cushions, smoothing the quilt - I love making up the bed.

11.00 am: Arrive at the National Media Museum in Bradford. It's a fantastic place with enough for small people to stop them getting bored, like the interactive "blue wall" on the television floor, and lots for the grownups, like the superb history of photography exhibition. We hadn't been for years and it was just the sort of outing we needed on a grey, damp day when everyone is tired and irritable. Plus it's free. Free is good.

12.00 pm: We enjoy the Video Games floor. I say we, I mean John and the kids. Actually, I mean John.

1.00 pm: We're still here. We've had some lunch in the cafe and we're thinking about leaving soon.

2.00 pm: Wander back to the car park through the autumnal streets of Bradford. Having the camera out makes me look at the city anew, and there is so much beauty and spectacular architecture there when you look.

3.00 pm: After a quick stop off at Asda on the way, (hideous - so, so busy and the kids were a total embarrassment) it's home for a cup of tea and a crispy cake. These are amazing - John made them with the kids after school yesterday and I think there are about three left now. I'll post the recipe soon.

4.00 pm: I prepare the fruit for the Christmas cakes I'll be baking tomorrow, being very careful to pour all of the brandy over the fruit and none into my cup of tea.

5.00 pm: For a treat, Bella and Angus are allowed their tea (pizza and chips) on their laps on trays, and sit on the sofa in front of the tv. I know, I'm rewarding bad behaviour, tut, tut, but it made for a blissfully happy tea time and made my day easier.

6.00 pm: Bella and I snuggle up on the sofa in front of last week's Strictly Come Dancing. Bella wants Rachel Riley from Countdown to win.

7.00 pm: Bath time. I love that they are still small enough to be bathed together, and will sit there playing for as long as we let them. The favourite bath toys were the ones which are never intended to be bath toys, like these two.

8.00 pm: Tidy up. Cook some food. Choose a film to watch (End of Watch - quite good. Depressing.) and resume beer drinking.

Twelve photos for twelve hours. Not an original idea - certainly not mine - but lots of fun, not least because it makes me get the camera out and use it all day. As you can see, it's a pretty mundane old life round here and at times today was hard work. Tired children, grey skies and the blooming Redundancy Budget can sap the joy out of anyone's weekend, but when I look back there were many moments of laughter, silliness and joy tucked away throughout the day, here and there.